Erik Friedlander

Grains of Paradise

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Cellist and composer Erik Friedlander cannot be accused of being staid in his musical pursuits. Gates of Paradise, his entry in Tzadik's Radical Jewish Culture series, is a large-scale work involving the largest and lushest ensemble he's ever recorded with. Here, a rhythm section comprised of ten violins, guitar, a rhythm section, and Friedlander's cello is able to explore a host of different Eastern musics in a myriad of settings as well. For instance, the set opens with "Zhatar," a swirling half-gypsy, half-klezmer tune played by an orchestra, it seems; it cuts through the Hebrew scales and moves in striated tempo to a melancholy yet furious conclusion. "Shamir" could be a wedding dance done by the bride and groom for the benefit for late revelers. Slow, sultry, steamy, and full of textured spaces, it closes in on the listener and holds him or her enrapt and still. Tracks such as "Rashad" could be considered calls to arms, they are so dramatic and insistent. However, with the larger ensemble, they come off more as exotic theater music, allegorical tomes offered as a way of granting the impression of something taking place. Finally, the title track, which closes the album, is a highly stylized, wildly expressionistic piece of tonal and timbral abstraction where colors, tones, and pitches shift, encountering each other in a non-specific foreground where everything is breathing into its next incarnation. The result is spooky, very beautiful, and haunting. Fans of Friedlander's earlier work may at first be put off by all the violins, but those willing to offer a second listen will be taken by the sheer generosity of the vision and the expansive artfulness on display here compositionally. Wonderful.

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